Sunday, February 26, 2017

Encouragement

I almost didn't post this. It's kind of personal, and might put people off. But then I thought, well, I've got at most four readers, and if this puts a few off...so here you go. Part one of how biking changed things for me. The good, the bad, the ugly. I think this is my imaginary TED talk.

It's official. I've been bicycling for a year now. Even the time I spent off the bike due to bicycle-related injury -- even that time -- I count as cycling. That's largely because I still think of it as well within the parameters of "learning to ride the bike."

All the time that I've been learning to ride, I've had people around me giving me encouragement. Telling me that I can learn to ride well, and learn to ride long distances well. That I can build the stamina and strength that I need to do difficult climbs. That there is very little that I want to do that I won't be able to do.

I started to write a letter of thanks to those people, and oddly, it ended with "So thanks. Thanks a lot. Thanks for ruining my life with your support and encouragement."

I should explain. If the negativity of this post so far hasn't "harshed your mellow" then please, read on. Some of this gets personal. If you're uncomfortable with that type of thing...I know I often am...then perhaps you won't want to read any further.




A little more than a year ago, I was a prototypical couch potato. I went to work. I dragged myself through the day. I came home. I complained. I sat in front of the television eating junk food, and fell asleep in front of the television. I had no expectations for myself beyond living an unexceptional life, retiring, and...well, seeing how things turned out.
This is me a year or so ago.
I did what I described above for thirty-five years. Even though I realized that this was an unsatisfying life, I kept on with it, because I simply felt that I was incapable of doing more. I didn't have the stamina, I didn't have the ambition.

Then the doctor told me that I had no choice. If I wanted to live any kind of decent life, I had to exercise, and I had to start right away. I know...doctors say that all the time...but I'd been feeling so low that I took her seriously. She suggested that I start running. I laughed. I'd tried running, and I hated it. My knees hurt all the time. Her second suggestion was that I go to the gym. I laughed again. I've never been comfortable in gyms -- the gym culture that I'd been exposed to was repellent to me. Lastly, she suggested I try bicycling. I thought "Huh. Um...okay..." (I don't know what her next suggestion would've been.)

I was last on a bicycle in the early eighties. I commuted to work and back, a round trip of about six miles. I rode a heavy yellow Schwinn. I don't have entirely good memories of that time; but when faced with a few exercise options, I chose bicycling as the one I was most familiar with.

I won't bore you with my confusion in buying a bike, except to say "More than ten speeds? What? Twenty-seven speeds? What?"
This is some kind of utensil for coring pineapples, right?
When I got a bike, the first thing I tried to do was to ride up a three percent grade for .2 miles, followed by a five percent grade for thirty-six feet. I could barely do it. At the end I was breathing like a person having an asthma attack, and my heart was beating so hard that I feared for my continued health (such as it was.)

And then I had a breakthrough. It came about in a very roundabout way. A friend of mine (who was also a lifelong cyclist) suggested that I should ride my bicycle to the train and take the train to work. Then at some point I could start riding home (which is downhill most of the way.) Then maybe start riding a little closer to work and taking the bus. I started making plans to do these things. At this point, it would be three or four more weeks before I took that first simple step.

But at last, the big day arrives. I ride my bike to the train station and carry it up to the platform. A train with four cars arrives. I am told by a fellow passenger that I cannot have my bike in the first three cars during commute hours. Oh. I roll my bike to the fourth car, which is packed with bikes. I uncomfortably negotiate a place to put my bike.

I think to myself "I will never do this again." I end up riding home that day instead of taking the train part of the way. There are difficulties, of course. There is a difficult street to ride up (a half mile long, two percent grade.) There is the hill that I have to walk up (between six and  seven percent grade for about a fifth of a mile.) But I do make it home. And for some reason, I am proud of myself. I decide that from then on I will ride to work, and that I will never take my bicycle on the train again. Have I stuck by that resolve? Yes. Have I ever regretted it? Of course. You don't go from negative health and stamina to making a ten mile round trip by bicycle without some problems.

That 7% grade? Felt like this.
I've gone on longer than I originally intended, and I still have more to say. I'll finish this up in the next post (and I promise I will try to be concise. And I definitely will come to the point.)

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